Monthly Archives: April 2015

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Women Key to Italian Resistance in WWII

On April 25, 2015, Italy marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the country from Nazi domination. This year much of the focus is on the 200,000 partisans who helped bring about the country’s liberation.

staffettedellaliberta

Over one quarter of the participants in the Italian Resistance during World War II were women (55,000), many acting as couriers (staffette).

In 1943, the Resistance strengthened in Italy as many Italian men chose to join the Partisans rather than capitulate to the German policy requiring the Italian military to be incorporated into the German army or be rounded up and sent as laborers in Eastern Europe.

Women also joined the Partisans but their involvement in the Resistance was truly a voluntary one since they did not face these same consequences if they chose not to participate in the war effort.

staffetta_portaordini

The first female partisans were couriers and spies. They were known as Staffette, a word for relay or courier.  Initially they brought, along with assistance in the form of food and clothing, news from home and information on enemy movements. Shortly, this spontaneous work became organized, and every detachment created its own couriers, which specialized in shuttling between the city centers and the command of the partisan units. They relayed messages to and from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Operational Groups (OGS).

la_bicicletta_nella_resiste

Frequently, these women had to cross German lines to accomplish their missions. Each time, they ran the risk of discovery, which they knew could result in torture or death.  Their work was delicate, difficult, and almost always dangerous.

Even when they didn’t cross the lines during combat under enemy fire, they had to pass through the steep slopes of mountain on paths off main roads with dangerous, cumbersome material, covering kilometers on bicycle or truck, often on foot, in the rain or snow. Even traveling by train or car, the couriers passed long hours, often forced to pass a night in a station or in an open field, facing the dangers of bombardments or a German ambush.

MOGLIE

After a tactical operation, the retreating partisans were not always able to take those seriously wounded with them. If there were men too wounded to hide, the couriers remained to watch them, to give them the necessary treatment and to seek medical help. After a battle women partisans were frequently left in the occupied country in order to learn the enemy movements and to get the information to the partisan command.

During the transfer marches the women were the advance expedition. When the partisan unit arrived near a town, the courier was the first to enter in order to find out if there were enemy forces and how many there were, and if it was possible for the partisan column to continue on.

UnknownIn addition to taking part in partisan activity, women also volunteered to work in the Women’s Groups for Defense and for the Assistance of the Freedom Fighters (gruppi di difesa della donna e per l’assistenza ai combattenti della libertà) or GDD. The GDD collected food, money and clothing. If these women were discovered supporting the Partisans in even these ways, they would be arrested and sometimes tortured or killed. The women in the GDD also played a key role in motivating other women into public activism and recruiting them to participate in various Resistance functions.

The key to the success of women in the Resistance was their collective, almost anonymous character. These were not superhuman beings, but members of the community, belonging to all levels of society. The Resistance of women was born, not from the will of a few, but from the spontaneous initiative of the many.

After the war, 200,000 Italians were registered formally as active members of the Resistance, of which official records show 55,000 were women. More were never identified as part of the fight against fascism and the Nazis.

Ada Gobetti

A recent translation of Partisan Diary: A Woman’s Life in the Italian Resistance, by Ada Gobetti is a story of heroism, political courage and humanity. It was originally published in Italy in 1956.

Ada Prospero Gobetti
Ada Prospero Gobetti

The diary/memoir covers the resistance to the Nazis when they entry Turin on September 10, 1943 to the liberation of the city on April 28,1945.

Ada Prospero Gobetti recorded the events on an almost daily basis, a dangerous undertaking. She jotted down her entries in a cryptic English that only she could understand; at the war’s end she deciphered the jottings for publication. The act of keeping an anti-fascist diary during the Nazi occupation carried an automatic death penalty.

Her involvement in the resistance movement goes back to 1922. Ada’s husband, the anti-Fascist activist Piero Gobetti, founded the anti Mussolini/fascist pamphlet Rivoluzione Liberale. Gobetti was arrested and beaten to death by Fascist gangs at age 24.

Ada Gobetti and her husband Piero
Ada Gobetti and her husband Piero

Ada, who found time to translate Sir Francis Bacon and Alexander Pope while tending to her teenage son Paolo,vowed to continue his work, as did Paolo. Her pride in her son and at the same time her fears that he will be captured are central themes in this story.

This book reads like a thriller, it provides first-hand knowledge of how the partisans in Piedmont fought and who joined the struggle against the Nazis and the Fascists.

Ada prospero Gobetti
Ada Prospero Gobetti

Ada ran a network of safe houses in Turin for anti-Fascists in need of refuge. Among these was the sister of the Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi, Anna Maria Levi. She and Paolo smuggled weapons and explosives into the Susa valley, adjacent to the French border, over mule paths and dense forests.

“4 September. It had gotten dark by now and soon we left with the new Tommy gun and what was necessary for derailing the train. We did not know exactly at what hour it would pass, but by now it was certain that no more civilian trains would pass by before dawn. We had to make the preparations quickly in order not to miss the strike.” — Ada Gobetti

Partisan Diary by Ada Prospero Gobetti
Partisan Diary by Ada Prospero Gobetti

Irma Bandiera

Irma Bandiera was the treasured daughter of a wealthy family from Bologna. She became a partisan fighter in the VII Brigade Gruppi di Azione Patriottica (GAP) Gianni Garibaldi of Bologna. As was common with those who fought for the resistance she took a battle name: Mimma.

Irma Bandiera (center) with her mother and her sister
Irma Bandiera (center) with her mother and her sister

Captured with encrypted documents by the Fascists working with the German SS, after transporting weapons to her brigade near Castel Maggiore, she was tortured, blinded and then shot, having refused to give up the names of her comrades. On August 14, 1944, her body was left lying on the road near her home for a whole day as a warning to others who sought to join the resistance.

In her honor, a formation of partisans operating at Bologna was named First Brigade Garibaldi “Irma Bandiera”. She was awarded the Gold Medal of Military Valor (Medaglia d’Oro al Valor Militare).

After The War

After April 1945, Italian women began to participate in the politics of their country in unprecedented number. Fifty percent of the women elected to the postwar Parliament had a partisan background. The gains Italian women earned through their courageous work with the resistance resulted in them acquiring a seat at the table of Italian politics that they retain today.

Women who helped create the new constitution in 1946
Women who helped create the new constitution in 1946
More Information

Find videos here, here, here and here

And articles here and here

An evocative photo montage

Amazon.com for  Partisan Diary: A Woman’s Life in the Italian Resistance by Ada Gobetti

Tuscan Traveler’s Picks – Pietre Dure by Scarpelli

Pittura per l’eternità (painting for eternity”) is what painter Domenico Ghirlandaio deemed the art of Pietre Dure in the 15th century. Polychrome hardstone inlay uses delicately thin slices of highly polished colored stones that are cut and fitted together to create images; assembled so precisely that the contact between each section is practically invisible.

Rose trellis in stone
Rose trellis in stone

Semi-precious stones like coral, garnet, malachite, jasper, lapis lazuli and amethyst are arranged in compositions to look like paintings; the natural grain of the stones and marble is exploited to create incredible effects (clouds, leaves and petals, skin, fur, etc.) that at first glance look like paintings.

The art is known worldwide as a specialty of 16th century Florentine artists, but it was also practiced at the courts of Naples, Madrid, Moscow, Prague, Paris and elsewhere. The colorful stones were arranged on tables, large and small, jewelry chests and cabinets of curiosities, to create landscapes and flower scenes. While the common belief is that the art form originated in Italy, some scholars argue that it had an Indian origin, or at least an independent history in that country. A famous example of pietre dure is the Taj Mahal, finished in 1643. The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan asked for precious stones to be inlaid in white marble. The result was some of the most impressive pietre dure architectural designs ever crafted.

Museo Opificio della Pietre Dure
Museo Opificio delle Pietre Dure

In 1588, the Medici Grand Duke Ferdinando of Tuscany founded a workshop for the purpose of developing pietre dure and other decorative art forms. The ducal workshop, renamed the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, which eventually became a museum and restoration laboratory, still exists today and it is the first place a visitor to Florence should go to learn more about the technique of inlaid stone. (Via degli Alfani 78r, Florence, tel. 055-218709; closed weekdays after 2 pm & on Sunday).

Scarpelli – Master Craftsmen

After leaving the museum go directly to Renzo Scarpelli’s store and workshop, Le Pietre nell’Arte on Via Ricasoli 59r. (tel. 055-212587; closed Sunday) There Renzo, his son Leonardo and their four collaborators create Florentine mosaics using traditional methods passed down from the Renaissance. Part art gallery, part laboratory, it is a huge fascinating place, where the old bricks, columns and stones of a 13th century stable have been brought to light after a painstaking restoration.

Delicate but everlasting rose by Scarpelli
Delicate but everlasting rose by Scarpelli

The Scarpelli Bottega d’Arte is open to all visitors wanting look around the workbenches, where the mosaic artists (mosaicist)  labor, creating the stone shapes, and thus discover a bit about the secrets of this ancient art. The staff and artisans are invested in helping their clientele understand the importance and intricacies of the art form. Shoppers can purchase a wall plaque, medallion or cameo here, or even commission a unique masterpiece based on custom drawings.

Renzo Scarpelli - Master Craftsman (photo antiquariatoearte.com)
Renzo Scarpelli – Master Craftsman (photo antiquariatoearte.com)

Renzo Scarpelli was born in Firenzuola (northeast of Florence) in 1947. Working in pietre dure was not his family’s business. His personal passion caused him to apprentice in one of the most ancient Florentine workshops when he was only 13 years old. After many years of training and art studies, he managed to open his own studio in Florence in the 1970’s and was thus able to design his first creations in pietre dure, known in Florence as mosaico fiorentino or commesso fiorentino.

He is now known internationally as one of the master craftsmen in the field and his works hang on museum walls as well as in fine private collections. Fearing the loss of the art form, he has a deep commitment to using his talents as a teacher and passing down the art of Florentine mosaic work.

Leonardo Scarpelli - Mastercraftsman of the new generation (photo antiquariatoearte.com)
Leonardo Scarpelli – The new generation  (photo antiquariatoearte.com)

His son Leonardo was fascinated by the laboratory from early childhood, showing not only a ready willingness to learn, but great skill in his designs and his work with the stone. After completing his studies in mosaics and pictorial decoration, he decided to join his father in the bottega. For over ten years now, Leonardo has been signing works of his own creation and is considered one of the finest artists of the new generation, especially when it comes to modern design. His “painting in stones” is a blend of arts and crafts, tradition and innovation.

A cat in stone made by Scarpelli
A cat in stone by Scarpelli

Renzo and Leonardo work together in the laboratorio and create artistic masterpieces of a very high quality indeed. Stefano and Pierpaolo, who boast many years of experience and a good grounding in painting, cooperate and support the laboratory production following instructions of the master craftsmen.

Gabriella supported her husband Renzo throughout his professional career and built up a business of her own in the unique design, fabrication and repair of pendants, earrings and necklaces in stones.

The Scarpelli workshop (photo fondazioneartigianato.it)
The Scarpelli workshop (photo fondazioneartigianato.it)

Catia, Renzo’s eldest daughter, after years of experience in other fields, has decided to follow the family tradition and is today responsible for running the business side of the company. She is assisted by Mayumi, who is key in sharing the pietre dure story with clients.

The Art of Pietre Dure

Craftsmen and artists worked together in an opificio delle pietre dure, or laboratorio, or bottega to create decorative artworks in stone. The painters play a fundamental part among them because they create the sketches. But in the beginning there is the stone.

A table of butterflies in inlaid stone
A table of butterflies in inlaid stone

The “stone seeker” (cercatore di pietre) is of prime importance. This is the person who knows everything there was to know about the raw materials and where to find them. In the time of the Medici dukes the maps of the cercatore di pietre were guarded and prized. (See this zen-like video of a cercatore di pietre going about his work.) The search for the right stones, carried out in the same places where Renaissance artists originally found their materials, is still a particularly painstaking job and a vital step in the production of pietre dure.

Stones for cutting at Scarpelli (photo fondazioneartigianato.it)
Stones for cutting at Scarpelli (photo fondazioneartigianato.it)

Many of the stones still come from the hills around Florence, among them “Paesina” stone and the “Gabbro” or granite from Impruneta or “Lilla” (quartzite) and “Alberese” (limestone) from Chianti, together with others from the river valleys near the Arno, including the grey “Colombino” stone and the “Green stone of the Arno”. These typical hues from the Tuscan territory are then combined with brighter colored stones like lapis lazuli, malachite and turquoises that are imported from abroad

The stones arrive at the laboratory, where each block of rough stone is cut into slices measuring about 3 mm thick. The commesso fiorentino then selects the colors needed from among the various stones, a process known as macchiatura or coloring, essential for the chromatic effect of the work.

Traditional cutting tool  for pietre dure
Traditional cutting tool for pietre dure

Then the hard work begins – the cutting and matching (commettere) of the various hues (the origin of the name commesso fiorentino), so as to create a perfect match between the individual pieces and complete the composition of the entire inlaid design. An enormous amount of stone is needed to choose the perfect hue and matrix, which only emerges during the cutting of the stone in its raw state.

The paper design created by the artist is cut into dozens of small pieces that are then pasted onto the thin stone slices to capture the perfect matrix and color. Using the centuries-old technique that employs a curved branch of chestnut or cherry wood and a piece of wire, the artist (mosaicista) cuts each tiny piece by rubbing the stone with scouring powder and water so as to be able to cut the small complicated shapes as precisely as possible.

Each pomegranate seed is a separate stone
Each pomegranate seed is a separate stone

The mosaicista uses a series of files to finish off the shapes of the pieces of stone until they fit together perfectly and then bonds them with a beeswax and rosin paste. A slab of slate is used as a backing and support for the composition. The last step is the polishing, done by hand, which brings out the colors of the natural stone.

 The Chapel of the Princes

“Painting for eternity” goes to the extreme in  the Cappelle Medici, also known as the Chapel of the Princes, a grandiose mausoleum attached to the Medici family church of San Lorenzo. This tomb/chapel/throne room was erected between 1604 and 1640 to celebrate the absolute power of the ruling Medici dynasty.

The Chapel of the Princes
The Chapel of the Princes

The octagonal room, where many of the Grand Dukes are buried in gigantic sarcophagi, is  encrusted floor to ceiling with semi-precious stone and marble inlay executed by the skilled workers employed at the Opificio delle Pietre Dure. An internal coating of lapis lazuli was meant to cover the vast dome, but even the Medici didn’t have enough money to procure the costly stones and, in the early 19th century, it was finally painted in fresco.

Tuscan Traveler’s Picks – Marvis the Florentine Toothpaste

My friend Nancy tries to get to Florence each year. While there she haunts the museums and the churches. When she goes home, does she take fine leather, golden bracelets, and marbleized paper? No, she carries a few tubes of toothpaste, a couple of bars of soap and a bag of Mattei brutti ma buoni.

Marvis flavors for every taste (photo http://www.classicshaving.com  )
Marvis flavors for every taste (photo classicshaving.com )

Why? Because she likes sweets and loves to have everyday products around her that remind her of her trip. Products made in Florence. Little did she know how trendy she was until she ran across an ad for her toothpaste in an international fashion magazine.

Marvis toothpaste is made in Florence. It is now taking the fashionable world by storm. So what is the story? Toothpaste from Tuscany?

Dentifricio Marvis, as the Florentines call it, was originally registered by Conte Franco Cella Di Rivara in Florence in 1958. The company’s most productive period was during the ‘70s, when it became known for being particularly effective for smokers’ stained teeth. Many say the name came from a combination of the words Marvel + Vis (latin for strength).

Clever Marvis Puzzle
Clever Marvis Puzzle (photo 4.bp.blogspot)

Marvis was overshadowed by Crest and Colgate until it was bought by the Ludovico Martelli company in 1997. The Martelli family, with its patriarch Ludovico, started a Florentine cosmetics company in 1908. In 1948, when Ludovico’s son, Piero, took over, the company launched a brand of shaving products called Proraso (not something Nancy will buy, except as gifts for her sons).

Fans of Marvis love the extra strong minty freshness of the toothpaste (though there are those who swear by the jasmine Mint or the Amarelli Licorice), packaged in beautiful aluminum retro tubes. The design has found favor around the world at sites like Eataly and the Wall Street Journal. The Martelli company has been savvy in gifting participants at the Pitti fashion shows with miniature tubes of Marvis. The Marvis website is also a joy to behold, unlike most that Italy has to offer.

It’s distributed in over forty countries and sold at upscale pharmacies (as well as on Amazon.com). In Italy, Marvis can be found in both grocery stores and pharmacies.

The favorite Marvis toothpaste in Classic Strong Mint
The favorite Marvis toothpaste in Classic Strong Mint

It has YouTube fans (including a couple of guys who brush for the camera) and is stocked at MR PORTER, the menswear bellwether for when a brand has made it. Marvis gets a shout out on THE LINE and is included in its “stories“. Its name was dropped by former Valentino Chairman, Giancarlo Giammetti, and J.Crew’s Frank Muytjens, who reportedly called it one of the things he carries around the world with him.

The first product created was the Classic Strong Mint Toothpaste, which is still the best seller of the whole range, especially in Italy. All Marvis product are based on a minty taste declined in seven different flavours: from the strong freshness of the classic mint to the delicate flowery taste of Jasmine Mint. It retails for $9 to $12. The latest addition to the Marvis family, an alcohol-free mouthwash infused with tingle-inducing herbal extracts, remains strong even when diluted from concentrate.

Maris Mouth Wash
Marvis Mouth Wash

The company wants to make the mundane activities of brushing teeth and shaving into a daily ritual of Italian pleasure.

When you visit Italy, don’t take that t-short back to your grandkids. Take Florentine Toothpaste!